Author : Michael Hughes

Commander Gareth released the locks on the landing shuttle’s doors and took in the view as they opened to reveal a barren landscape.

This wasn’t what they had seen from orbit. Both the Columbia’s sensors and their own eyes had deceived them. There was nothing to indicate that the lush forests and oceans that appeared to have covered the planet had ever even existed here. There was no debris, no decaying plant life, not even a puddle. The shuttle’s sensors detected no trace of water vapor in the atmosphere. Where had it all gone?

Gareth called to Lieutenant Karena, the lead biologist.

“What do you make of this, Lieutenant?”

“I can’t say. There isn’t even a hint of what we saw from orbit. Even if there had been forests and oceans here, I should have seen trace amounts of organic matter in the atmosphere and the soil. Based on what we have found here, I can only hypothesize that no life of any kind has here for several centuries.”

“What did we see from orbit then?”

Gareth leaned back inside the shuttle and ordered Sergeant Ballast to contact the Columbia. He wanted to know what their readings said now. If they were still reading a planet filled with life, perhaps they were on the receiving end of some elaborate deception. For what purpose, he couldn’t say.

“Commander, I’m not getting any signal from the ship.”

“Try broadcasting on all frequencies, and try again in 15 minutes. It’s possible they’re on the far side of the planet.”

Gareth and Karena ventured farther from the shuttle while waiting for the response. They noticed a small hill not far from the landing site and made their way towards it, hoping to get a better view of their surroundings which might give a clue into the mystery of this barren world.

“Commander, still no response from the ship.”

“Acknowledged. We’re just reaching the hill. We’ll take a look here and then head back to the shuttle.”

As Gareth reached the summit, he froze in his tracks.

Not 100 meters on the other side of the hill lay a crash site. It was ancient.

“Karena, get over here! We didn’t pick up anything on the sensors did we?”

“No sir. No advanced alloys, no energy signatures, nothing that would indicate any technology of any kind. Not even wreckage.”

Gareth contacted Ballast and ordered him to bring the shuttle near the crash site as he and Karena made their way towards it.

“Maybe this has something to do with the discrepancies with what we saw from orbit,” Karena suggested. “Could it have been projecting false readings?”

“But that wouldn’t explain what we saw with our own eyes! Even on the shuttle descent, we didn’t see anything change until we came through that cloud!”

As they approached the wreckage, a sense of familiarity washed over them. The angles of the bulkheads and the markings on the hull were all too recognizable. Gareth and Karena were both thinking it, but neither of them said a word.
Ballast came over the comm as the shuttle passed the hill.

“Commander, I’m picking up the ships transceiver signal. It’s coming from the wreckage. There are also massive amounts of radiation coming from the reactor core.”

Karena spoke up.

“Commander, my readings indicate this wreckage is over 1000 years old. It couldn’t be…” She stopped mid-sentence as she made out the letters on the hull.

“…U.S.S. Columbia.”

“Lietenant, get to the shuttle and start unpacking the emergency supplies. We may be here for a while.”

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